Influencer marketing is perhaps the biggest thing to happen in marketing since Don Draper. According to a recent report on the state of influencer marketing, nearly 70 percent of marketers are using influencer marketing in some way. But it’s changing dramatically. Instagram’s new rules make it harder for influencers’ organic posts to reach people and even harder to track engagement.
This isn't making influencer marketing less effective, despite what some headlines say. Rather, it’s turning it from an art to a science. It’s now a scalable paid media tactic. The metamorphosis is complete. And with scale, we've seen a quantum leap in terms of insights, analytics and measurement. Are you taking advantage of the true influence of influencers?
This article will give you a brief history of how we got to this point of the “influencer-ization of marketing” and how to make it work for your brand.
In The Beginning
Influencer marketing took shape in the eye of a perfect storm of public relations, social media and digital marketing as these fields were inventing themselves (in the case of social media) or re-inventing themselves (as it was for PR and digital marketing).
PR departments had a history of working with influencers, from subject matter experts to celebrities and athletes to community organizers, who could generate word-of-mouth buzz. These influencers were hired to spread the word about a company, brand or cause.
Then came the social media revolution and the ability to amplify the messages of these influencers. Word spreads a lot faster online than off. That led to the eponymous social media influencer who, born out of the Kardashian generation, was influential simply for being popular -- or in social media parlance, having a lot of followers.
The Early Days
As influencer marketing matured, companies realized that the social media influencers' (or creators') expressions of their brand could be a compelling way to become relevant with new audiences. Often, these new audiences were the coveted millennials who followed the social media influencers. And it worked.
You could hire five, 10, 50 or 100 influencers to tell your story in an authentic way. Influencer agencies and networks flourished, and companies hired them. You could specifically choose influencers whose audiences fit your target profile, such as beauty influencers for personal care brands or chefs/food influencers for food brands. And that content performed well, especially as Instagram emerged.
Even if it stopped there, influencer marketing would be an effective new tool in the arsenal. Influencer networks were also being employed to uncover micro-trends and glean insights (through influencer listening tools that aggregate topics thousands of influencers were posting about). But to make a mark in the paid-media dominant world of marketing, influencer marketing needed to scale and be measurable in the short term.
Influencer 2.0: Gaining Traction, But Poor Measurement
Fast forward to 2017. The much-anticipated Fyre Festival took place (or not). Two documentary films on the Fyre Festival put influencers at the center stage of pop culture. In 2018, "influencer" was declared the word of the year. Brands started using influencer content more and more -- especially micro-influencers -- finding them through sophisticated algorithms of influencer networks and adding influencer content into their paid media by white-listing and promoting it. But it was still not at scale, and the analytics and measurement were frustratingly limited -- until it got sophisticated.
Influencer Vanguard: Content Optimization And ROI
Influencer marketing has evolved to a whole new level. In the age of optimization, it was only natural that securing multiple pieces of content relatively inexpensively would be a boon to marketers, especially paired with the ability to measure success in real time.
Here are four simple steps to take achieve influencer nirvana (i.e., measurement at scale):
Step 1: To determine which influencer content performs best, you can deploy dynamic creative testing (A/B testing all the way to A/Z testing, depending on how many influencers you’re working with) using metrics like video views, click-through rates, add-to-cart rates and purchases (notice I didn’t say likes or follows).
Step 2: With that information, optimize what’s working by significantly investing in the winning content. Give your best influencer content some scale, and kill the content that isn’t working (#ContentDarwinism).
Step 3: To get deeper, more rigorous analytics, you can run brand lift tests (to determine awareness, consideration, purchase intent) by putting a pixel on the influencer content and doing a controlled versus exposed test to see if the influencer moved the needle.
Step 4: Finally, run a side-by-side test -- brand-generated content versus influencer content -- to see what performs best based on your metrics (click-through rates, video views, etc.) or brand lift results. For e-commerce brands, the metrics are easy: click-throughs to your product pages or add-to-cart rates. For brands that are mostly brick and mortar, in-store sales can be measured via controlled versus exposed tests using Oracle Datalogix or IRI.
Influencer content often outperforms the brand content -- sometimes by a lot. It’s likely that the consumer perceives the content as more relevant or authentic to them because it’s coming from a real person rather than a brand.
At Clorox, where I work, we’ve seen influencer-generated content outperform our brand content in brand lift studies on several brands. And we’ve even done tests in which we lead with influencer content in paid media and retarget (based on interactions with the content) with our brand-generated content. Talk about turning a model on its head.
Influencer marketing has come of age. And the modern age is using market-tested influencer-generated creative at scale in advertising campaigns. Scale sells. Now, you can join the “influencerati.”